It’s Sound Check!

with Owen Hughes

While some of us spend our days in small rooms imagining and creating soundscapes of faraway lands, others are actually out there recording it, rain hail or shine! Meet documentary location mixer Owen Hughes.

I was drawn into working in the sound industry through the music and theatre industries. A good friend of mine was working as a front of house sound engineer for live music events as well as theatre productions and needed a roadie to help load in / out. Once I started to appreciate the creative elements behind the diverse audio production on various jobs, I was hooked. Working in live audio lead to working in recording studios with various musicians as well as working on the occasional low budget film production that would be mixing, recording voice over or attempting ADR. It was through this work that my skill set in recording initially developed and my interest in film and television emerged.

I went to University to study film and learn more about the process of filmmaking and some of the rationale behind the creative choices made on set and in post-production, but it was the documentary elements that drew my attention most. There is something about the pressure of not always having a chance to get another take in documentary filmmaking that makes it extremely rewarding. Recording sound for documentaries can mean very long days, having to camp in remote areas in various weather conditions and climates and often having to be creative in how you set up and capture the sound required. Documentary work has taken me all over the world and it has been an adventure I look forward to continuing.

My most memorable project to date would have to be Martin Clunes: Islands of America, which was completed in 2018. We spent months traveling around the USA filming and recording a diverse range of people and wildlife; from an active volcano in Hawaii to Kodiak Bears in Alaska, to a rum distillery in Puerto Rico and to an enormous sea lion and fur seal colony off the coast of California, to name a few. It was memorable because it tested me in every way. We would be in muggy tropical heat one day and snow and ice the next, as well as having to record on the land, sea and in the air. I also acquired my American drone license for the shoot so I had a second role to play in the crew. It was a hectic but extremely rewarding project to be involved in.

If I was not in this industry I think I would be back working in the music industry in some way. The music industry and film and television industries are not too dissimilar when it comes to working in audio. The skill set is largely transferable; it is only the application of the skills that differ slightly depending on the job at hand.

If I could have worked on any soundtrack in history, it would have been Nostalghia (1983), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. What a beautifully spacious film. There is so much scope for guiding a films narrative aurally and it is done to perfection in Nostalghia. Its power is in its subtlety. It is a fantastic example of how less can be so much more when it comes to film sound.

The best advice I have been given is that the show must go on. It is advice that has been especially accurate when working on documentaries in remote locations where there are no options to replace gear or acquire additional supplies if something fails. You learn to be resourceful and understand the workings of your equipment so you can add gaffa tape as needed and carry on.